On Wednesday, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is due to publish his report
on the Mount Carmel fire which, were Shas leader Eli Yishai to possess any sense
of shame and personal responsibility, should spell the end of his tenure as
The report is expected to hold Yishai, along with
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, as bearing a “special responsibility” for the
firefighting failure a year-and-a-half ago, in which 44 people lost their lives.
As interior minister, Yishai holds direct responsibility for the state of the
country’s firefighting units.
According the state comptroller’s draft
report, Yishai not only failed to extract the necessary budget from the Treasury
to expand the firefighters’ resources to match the country’s real needs, he also
ignored the need to scrutinize the firefighters’ operational capabilities and
training and failed to initiate much-needed changes in the service.
though Yishai knew the state of the Fire and Rescue Services was, in his own
words, “a catastrophe,” the minister was too glued to his cabinet seat to even
threaten to resign over the Treasury’s refusal to allocate the necessary funds.
Nor did he consider shifting around other ministerial funds to prevent what, in
retrospect, was a disaster waiting to happen. In other countries, this alone
would be enough to demand Yishai’s resignation.
But Yishai has made it
clear he has no intentions of going, and it is extremely doubtful that Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who starred in his own state comptroller’s report
last week, and is due for some more criticism in this one too, will have the
political courage to do the right thing and demand Yishai’s head.
BE TOLD, Yishai is a serial ministerial incompetent who deserves to be banished
from public life. At the moment, Yishai is basking in the spotlight as his
immigration police conduct a brutal hunt for migrant workers, despite the fact
that it is Yishai himself who bears much of the responsibility for the
large-scale arrival of migrant workers that he is so quick to condemn in racist,
The first wave of migrants entered the country when
Yishai was industry and trade minister in Ehud Olmert’s government, working
legally under permits issued by his office. Not surprisingly, these workers
encouraged their family and friends to join them here.
Once he became
interior minister in the present government, Yishai became responsible for
controlling the country’s borders and, as such, has been a total failure. In a
recent article in Yediot Aharanot, ex-premier Olmert pointed out that the wave
of migrant workers during his term of office reached a peak of 9,300 in 2008,
before falling to 5,300 a year later following steps taken by his government.
Since then, and since Yishai has been in charge of the borders, the number of
migrant workers entering the country has spiked dramatically, reaching around
30,000 people for the years 2010 and 2011.
THERE IS no easy solution to
the problem of migrant workers from Africa, and Israel is not the only country
in the Western world grappling with this issue. One would have thought, however,
that Israel, whose Jewish character Yishai is so zealous about protecting, would
show more sensitivity in its treatment of these people, given our own history of
fleeing persecution and economic misery.
But no. Recycling some of the
motifs of the darkest years of the past century, Yishai first of all labeled
African workers as carriers of disease, telling a Channel 2 program: “If
hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come here now, they will bring with
them a profusion of diseases: hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis, AIDS and drug
That was back in the autumn of 2009. Today, given that
Israel hasn’t fallen foul to the black plague, Yishai has changed track, now
warning of the dangers to the “kosher daughters of Israel” who have called his
office to report being raped by African workers. The Nazi propaganda tabloid Der
Sturmer also specialized in reporting tales of crimes against Aryan women and
girls by the “evil, disgusting, no-good Jews!” Last week’s humiliating roundup
of Sudanese workers, in which the press were invited to film frightened families
being roused from their homes and sent to detention before their deportation,
has certainly not helped Israel’s self-proclaimed mission of being “a light unto
the nations.” The despicable publicity stunt might help Yishai’s standing among
the more racist elements of Israeli society, but it will do nothing to alter the
fundamental problem of migrant workers.
Despite Yishai’s frothing at the
mouth, the majority of the 60,000 Africans in the country are here to stay,
unless another country can be found willing to take them. Over half the Africans
(34,000 according to Population and Immigration Authority figures) are from
Eritrea, and cannot be sent back there due the harm likely to befall them on
their return. The Sudanese migrants in Israel also cannot be deported, leaving
only around 2,500 Africans from South Sudan and the Ivory Coast eligible for
But just as in the case of the rundown fire service, Yishai
has never let the facts contradict his own misguided and negligent sense of
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The